Friday, May 26, 2006

Nine Days to a Lawsuit-Free Life, Day Two: Driving Away Lawyers

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

if we all drove tiny cars, there would only be tiny accidents

After day one of this series, you should know the basics of avoiding accidents in your everyday life. Now let’s apply that newfound awareness of our surroundings to one of the most dangerous places of all: inside an erupting volcano.

Or rather, here are some ways you can help avoid the wrong end of civil law while you’re on the road.

  • Don’t cheap out on driver’s ed. Most states require completion of some form of accredited driver’s education course to obtain a license. From my own experience, I have to wonder how some of these driving schools get or keep their accreditation. I went with the cheapest school in town, and I didn’t learn a thing about driving. (I believe that driving school has since gone out of business.) For a skill you’ll need your entire life, take the time to investigate schools in your area and find the best one, not just the least expensive one.
  • Keep the kids away from the wheel. This is far easier said than done in today’s world. If possible, resist your children’s pleadings to let them drive around town until they’ve demonstrated a high level of proficiency. Even then, try to limit their time on the road to work and school commuting. And since you could be liable for any injuries your child causes while on the road, you may want your keep your kid from driving with passengers.
  • Drive a vehicle that’s safe for all. Sure you can cart you and your family around in a Hummer or monstrous SUV and you’ll absolutely plow through any passenger car that runs a red light in front of you. But if you’re at fault for that accident, you could see your financial future plowed through instead. So instead of driving down the road in eight tons of metal, look into a more sensible mid-sized car or light SUV instead. There are several such vehicles with high government safety ratings (*cough*MINI*cough*).
  • Take a defensive driving course. A handful of hours in a driving improvement class can not only make you a better driver, but it can also save you a bit on your car insurance premiums. Also check out the list of defensive driving tips at Wikipedia.
  • Drive comfortably. Before you even start your car, you can optimize your ability to avoid accidents or unsafe situations by improving your comfort level. Especially for long drives, be sure to properly adjust your seat, seat belts, mirrors, and steering wheel. Adjust climate control features so you won’t be overly hot or cold. Use sunglasses or your vehicle’s visor when driving into the sun. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that don’t restrict your movement while driving.
  • Maintain your vehicle. Your car is a precision instrument that needs to be able to respond to your actions as soon as you make them. Regularly check your fluids, lights, and safety systems so that they’ll all be in optimal condition when you need them most.
  • Assume every other driver is stupid. You’re not psychic (if you were, I could sense it), so you have no idea what the other drivers on the road could do at any moment. If you’re at a stop sign and you clearly have the right of way, don’t just zoom out into the intersection because someone else might think they have the right of way… or they might not even know the meaning of “right of way.”
  • Beef up your insurance. Especially if you have significant assets like a home or sacks full of money, you’ll want to crank up the coverage protecting you from legal liability in an at-fault accident. If you have significant levels of protection, you can often avoid a lawsuit and skip straight to the settlement. Also consider an umbrella insurance policy that will cover damages in excess of your standard car insurance limits. For the amount of coverage these policies offer, they’re relatively inexpensive.
  • Shorten your commute. Common sense says that the less you’re on the road, the fewer opportunities there are for you to get in an accident. Moving closer to your workplace can mean the difference between a long, nail-biting commute along busy highways and a short jaunt on local streets. If a shorter drive isn’t possible, look for alternate routes that avoid high-traffic thoroughfares, or simply avoid peak traffic times so there are fewer drivers sharing the road with you.
  • Be a better pedestrian. Just as important as the rules of the road are the rules of the sidewalk. Make sure you know the laws for walking in your area, and pay as much attention to the vehicles on the road beside you as you would if you were driving.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend, and feel free to comment or e-mail any other tips you have for lawsuit-proofing your driving habits. Next time, we’ll explore the ways you can keep your pets from getting you into legal trouble.

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